According to the dictionary, the definition of success is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose; the attainment of popularity or profit; a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.”

The question I want to pose to you is, how do YOU define success?

I think this is very personal, and I also think there is no right or wrong definition. When it comes to a conversation about your life and what a successful life looks like for you, there can be a wide range of definitions and examples of success. And there are all sorts of things that can impact it.

Many of us have allowed outside influences to define success for us without actually taking the time to think about it. Advertising and social media certainly play a part. If you’re watching endless commercials for what looks like successful people driving a BMW, you may begin to believe that driving a BMW (or your luxury car of choice) is part of that definition of success. And success won’t be achieved until that BMW is what’s parked in your driveway. Well understand, in that example, a company with a vested interest in selling a product got you to buy the product by influencing the way you think about success.

In addition to advertising, many times there are people in your life that are influencing your definition of success. These people may be family, friends, or peers who want what’s best for you, but only through their perspective. We’ve all heard the old adage “you’re the culmination of five people you surround yourself with.” I’d be willing to bet that how you think about success is also fairly imprinted by those same people. If you surround yourself with people who work hard, to some extent your version of success is probably going to be tied to the action of working hard.

This is where our world can be skewed, and we need to reflect inward to see if other people’s perspectives are really what we hold dear or if there are others that are truly our own. 

John Wooden’s definition of success is: “Success is a peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

To become “the best of which you are capable,” you’ve got to take time to figure out what you are capable of becoming and…are you marching in that direction? You have the potential within you to achieve at a certain level in a certain area of life. Are you using that to its fullest extent, or at least attempting to use it at its fullest extent?

Maya Angelou’s definition is: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” 

Just a baseline satisfaction with discovering who you are, what you do and how you go about doing it. I love the simplicity of this definition…do you like yourself at the end of the day? All other thoughts aside, this removes the material definitions of success.

Winston Churchill said, “success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” 

What a cool definition of success. What insight…failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. No matter what you attempt, you will experience multiple failures. And sometimes we’re stitching together a bunch of failures one after another before we have any version of success. Most new businesses, most new ventures look like that. We’ve gotta get through this dip of failure without losing enthusiasm before we start having any success.

While these definitions of success have similar themes they are influenced by each writer’s programming. When we have a personal disconnect, we need to pause and examine the programming itself.

This is how I encourage my coaching clients to peel back the layers. Go proactively seek…the key here is being proactive…other people’s versions of success and try them on. Does that work for you, does it feel good when you put it on? Can you see yourself in that same version of success 20 years from now, 30 years from now?

So, who’s DNA is on your definition? Is it a parent of yours? Is it a coworker you admire? Is it a company that’s trying to sell you something? Is it a political party that has its own desires and its own ends at heart? Is it something having to do with your faith? There is no right or wrong when it comes to who or what influences you. I come across many who are really whacking away at something, trying to achieve these big goals to be “successful,” who don’t pause long enough to realize they’re whacking away at the wrong thing. It’s that old scenario of “hey, great job painting the room…the only problem is, you painted the wrong room.” Well, imagine if you spend your whole life painting the wrong room? You’re not going to know until it’s too late. You’ve gotta take time, periodically, to examine it.

So… who’s influencing you? Who are you going to seek out that could expand your thinking and broaden your thought process? I challenge you to find people you may not agree with or have little in common with and start asking them about their definitions of success. People whose life paths, in many ways, might be completely different from yours. There are farmers out there living very successful lives and they work seven days a week, 12 hours a day and they love what they do. They’ve created multigenerational businesses. They spend time with their families. They’re tired every day and they’re energetic every morning. And that may be success for them.

Stephen Covey’s definition of success is: “If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you in the funeral experience, you will find your definition of success.” 

I teach that similar principal in some of my classes and I say this, write your eulogy. What will

people say about you? Write your eulogy, but keep it concise, keep it to a page. Don’t get lost in the weeds with it. If you only had one page of things that you wish that the people who were

closest to you, who knew you best, said about you, what is it you would hope they would say?

Understand that when I say write your eulogy and keep it to a page, my expectation is it’s going

to take you time. This is not a quick one off. It will take time, not only to write it but it will then take time to be concise. What do you hope people say about you when you’re no longer here?

I can tell you my life’s work has absolutely been a blessing and there are times when I’ve taken

that too far. So, if my definition of success is only about work, for me, I’ve missed something.

So, let’s go back to our process here and start examining it.

  • Define your definition of success.
  • Look for the DNA of the people that you’ve allowed to influence that. Are they the people you want to have influencing it? Or are there some other influences that have gotten in there that are not genuine to you, that you’ve allowed to somehow morph your version of success?
  • Proactively seek people who have other versions of success or perhaps even similar versions of success. Use those conversations as a pressure test for what you’ve come up with and expand your thinking around it.

As you go through the process, hopefully you will come up with a definition of success that is

something you’re very comfortable and confident in. Remember, if we don’t take the time to figure out our own definition of success, we could end up realizing too late that we’ve been painting the wrong room.

I hope this has this has moved the dial a bit for you. If you’d like to chat more about the process, reach out!